A new report warns thousands of young people held in solitary confinement each year inside adult jails and prisons could suffer lasting consequences including hallucinations and mental illness.
The study by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch reached out to 125 juveniles in 19 states. Many of them reported being isolated for weeks at a time, in small cells with little natural light, no access to education, and minimal opportunities to exercise.
Ian Kysel, a fellow at the ACLU and HRW who wrote the report, said the solitary treatment costs far more than regular incarceration and it can violate the ban on cruel and unusual punishment in the U.S. Constitution and in international human rights law.
"Because they're still developing, as we know, traumatic experiences like solitary confinement might have a profound effect on their chance to rehabilitate," Kysel told reporters on a conference call today.
Kysel said one young inmate wrote him a letter that said, "In segregation, you either implode or explode." Other young offenders told him about attempts at suicide, or cutting themselves, during long hours spent alone in their cells.
In 2011, more than 95,000 young people were locked up in jails and prisons for adults. Thousands of them spent time in isolation, where Kysel reports, they were deprived of access to their family members, sometimes for months.
"We need to get young people out of the adult system," Kysel said.
Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union of New York issued a report on the effects of solitary confinement in New York state prisons.